This past January, I reported that photographer Lauren Greenfield’s controversial, award-winning documentary, “The Queen of Versailles" was snatched up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures after premiering to a sold-out crowd at the Sundance Film Festival. As you may remember, the film is a “rags-to-riches-to-rags story” about time-share resort mogul David Siegel’s ill-timed plot to build the largest home in America in where else but Orlando.
Documentary chronicling 'royal' real estate mess to get July release
'The Queen of Versailles' — the real-life saga of a beleaguered billionaire, his spendthrift trophy wife and their unfinished 90,000-square-foot dream home in Florida — is set for a nationwide release on July 20.
Just the other week, the film's official trailer was released to much anticipation. The film itself will hit theaters in mid-July.
As the story goes, Siegel's 90,000-square-foot, Versailles-inspired home — Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress calls it both a “monument to bad taste” and a “testament to waste” — was never fully completed due to the economic downturn, and put on the market. And, yes, the two-thirds completed property still appears to be available for $100 million (“finished based on the royal palace of King Louis XIV of the 17th century or to the buyers specifications”) or for $75 million “as is with all exterior finishings in crates in the 20-car garage on site.”) However, the Wall Street Journal noted in March that there has been serious price-cutting as of late with the asking prices being lowered to $90 million and $65 million. Siegel has claimed that construction on the home has in fact resumed while, in the meantime, his family lives in a nearby 26,000-square-foot home.
The documentary chronicles how Siegel and his much younger wife — a buxom former beauty queen/mother of eight/compulsive shopper named Jackie — attempt to carry on when the housing bubble bursts, Siegel's latest resort property in Vegas runs into trouble, and construction on their monstrous mega-mansion subsequently screeches to a halt.
When I posted about "The Queen of Versailles" back in January, an outraged reader wondered why such a story would appear on MNN, claiming that they wish they had never read the “stupid article.” So why would I write about a documentary film concerning a private residence with a 6,000-square-foot master bedroom, 10 kitchens, three swimming pools, and an indoor roller skating rink when I normally post about homes that are of limited square footage and boast environmentally sustainable features?
Well, because I think it's fascinating and, ultimately, the film isn't really about the house — if you could even call it that. Sure, the film may appear to be a lurid, mean-spirited gawk-and-mock fest distantly related to a bunch of drunk, maladjusted society(ish) wives tearing into each other on cable television (BlackBook and a few other publications make the inevitable "Real Housewives" comparison). However, Greenfield states that underneath the histrionics, cleavage and endless layers of gaudy décor, "The Queen of Versailles" is about something that we can all relate to but on a much different scale: “[It’s] really similar to what many of us went through in the economic crisis: having to downsize, having to deal with the possibility of losing our homes, having to deal with significant changes in life and also the stress on relationships,” she said in a Sundance Channel interview.
Greenfield has discussed how she became friends with Jackie during the three-year filming period and that the couple, despite their penchant for vulgar displays of consumerism, are unpretentious. "One of the things that appealed to me about Jackie and David is that because they come from humble origins, they had a generosity of spirit that allowed me to get to know them," Greenfield recently told the New York Times. Of course, much of the hoopla surrounding the film has to do with the fact that David is now suing Greenfield for defamation.
“What drew me to this subject was that I got interested in the idea of a house as the ultimate expression of the American Dream,” Greenfield also revealed to the New York Times in an article that the film is is less about a grotesquely oversized house threatened with foreclosure and more about “the drip, drip, drip of a rich family trying to hold onto what it has — and its painful, sometimes comical, adjustment to changing circumstances." In the case of Jackie Siegel, adjusting to changing circumstances involves taking a stretch limo to McDonald's. Like I said, this is something we can all relate to on a much different scale.
The "Queen of Versailles" opens to a limited release on July 6 and expands nationwide on July 20. Think you’ll watch it? Like David and Jackie Siegel, I've had to do some belt-tightening myself over the past couple of years and don't see movies in the theater that often, but I'm willing to part with $14 to check this one out.